US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner refused to condemn a probe by Turkey into whether MP Selahattin Demirtaş had insulted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Demirtaş is the co-leader of the largest pro-Kurdish bloc in Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, it is illegal to insult the Turkish nation and Turkish government institutions, including the presidency. Turkish prosecutors claim Demirtaş denigrated Erdoğan in a speech he gave condemning the arrest of two Kurdish co-mayors in Diyarbakir city.
“I would refer you to Turkish authorities […] about why they’ve launched such a probe,” Toner told reporters on Saturday. “I don’t have much to add other than the fact that we obviously want to see stronger ties between – or within Turkey.”
“[Demirtaş] was a moderate Kurdish leader. I just don’t have any insight to add or to provide as to why they may be investigating,” the State Department spokesperson added.
A journalist pressed Toner, arguing that if the United States “were to speak more clearly against such abuses, perhaps the Turkish authorities would take them into account and be less abusive.”
Toner refused to be drawn out and said that he had no comment on the arrest of Kurdish politicians in general or the probe against Demirtaş in particular. “I think you’ll appreciate the fact that I can’t speak to an investigation when I don’t know the details as to why they may be investigating any individual […]– it would be irresponsible for me to do so,” he said.
While Demirtaş’ speech on Thursday was passionate and indignant, it was not immediately clear which passage had gotten him into hot water. The principle oratory themes were the silencing of the media, abuse of power and the need to restart the moribund peace process.
“For the last two days, there’s been no Internet connection in any Kurdish city. Opposition TV outlets are seized and confiscated. The journalists who are here with us may be able to send their reports to their agencies but [fearful of Erdogan], prime-time news will not cover their reports,” Demirtaş told a throng of Kurdish supporters on Thursday.
“We are not afraid of being prosecuted, though justice is the last thing encountered in Turkey’s courts,” the Kurdish leader proclaimed. “If there was justice, we’d be willing to be prosecuted together [with Erdoğan]. If they are going to question him about reams of money in shoe boxes, the trucks of weapons sent to Syria, those murdered in the streets, let’s be prosecuted together.”
Demirtaş also said that the HDP worked for peace, day and night, but that the Edogan’s government was against any form of dialogue. “You are blocking these options. However, we will insist on politics till the end. A sane government would pave the way for politics. A sane government would pave the way for dialogue,” he concluded.
Turkey launches crackdown on Kurdish Region, cuts Internet
Turkish police -as previously mentioned- arrested the Kurdish co-Mayors of Diyarbakir, Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli on Tuesday. These arrests will most likely result in more protests and a spike in tensions between Kurds living in Turkey and Ankara.
Anticipating those protests and tensions, Turkish security forces severed the Internet connection of millions of people. “This blackout attempt aims at silencing the voice of people in the region as well as preventing them from exercising their right to be informed,” the Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality said in a statement.
Both of the arrested co-mayors were member of the pro-Kurdish HDP. Dozens of high-ranking municipal officials have been detained since Tuesday – all of them are members of the HDP.
“Detention of the co-Mayors of Diyarbakir shall be interpreted as the final phase of a year-long process of suppression carried out by the government to abolish local democracy in Turkey,” the Diyarbakir Municipality said. “Thus, this is also an opportunity to save local democracy by enabling the release of the co-mayors and halting the appointment of government trustees.”
The Turkish-Kurdish peace process, which was launched in 2009, broke down in June 2015. Both sides have since resumed open hostilities, resulting in thousands of fatalities. The European Union has repeatedly called on both sides to resume the peace process and end the cycle of violence.
Rebuffing the EU, Turkey has arrested dozens of pro-Kurdish politicians, banned Kurdish-language media and launched attacks on Kurdish communities in Syria.